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Rural Express: St Mary farmers start organic bamboo charcoal

Published:Saturday | December 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Head of Nelson's Super Farm, Oratio Kennedy (left), and his consultant, Joseph Lindsay, hold one of their first batches of organic bamboo charcoal.-PHOTOS BY ORANTES MOORE
One of the Nelson's Super Farm's employees loads the special kiln with bamboo ready to be turned into charcoal.
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Orantes Moore, Gleaner Writer

PEMBROKE HALL, St Mary:A GROUP of St Mary-based agriculturalists are set to embark on a ground-breaking project that could signal a significant increase in the farming of organic produce in Jamaica.

In an bid to tap into the lucrative international trade in bamboo products, last week, Oratio Kennedy of Nelson's Super Farm in Pembroke Hall and his consultant, Joseph Lindsay, launched Jamaica's first organic bamboo charcoal factory.

According to Kennedy, who plans to export around 27,000 pounds (12,247 kg) of the product every month, the project is the first of its kind and could generate annual profits exceeding US$300,000.

He told Rural Xpress: "This is the first-ever organic bamboo charcoal [factory] in Jamaica and possibly the world. Most people do it the old-fashioned way and burn it underground, which leaves a lot of soil residue.

"But we have a combustion machine that polarises and bakes the bamboo, so there is no dirt, and the farms we source from are all certified by the United States Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program.

"[Entrepreneur] Roger Chang introduced us to a few projects the Government is doing, and this was the one we really liked because we are very concerned about deforestation, and bamboo replenishes itself rapidly."

Lindsay believes the charcoal-processing plant is the biggest organic initiative in Jamaica and insists there is a huge amount of scope to expand the project.

He said: "In terms of the other organic projects, things are happening, but they are much smaller. The potential for this is enormous once you identify other bamboo plots, and bamboo is like an invasive species that grows wild all over the country.

"You haven't got to do anything in terms of maintenance or additional nutrients. Once you don't burn or allow it to be affected by prohibited sprays, it can be inspected and certified as organic. So this process could be duplicated in several locations in Jamaica.

"There is a market in the United States, and the organic label gives it an additional oomph so you can discriminate in the market by saying this is the highest quality."

On the whole, Jamaican farmers have been slow to explore the organic market, but Kennedy's innovative and forward-thinking scheme is an excellent example of how natural resources can be used to develop employment and revenue.

"I think a lot of people prefer the quick route," Kennedy explains. "When you do things organically, it takes longer. However, it is healthier for your body because no chemicals are being used."

Lindsay is a soil scientist who has been researching the benefits of organic farming for more than 25 years and believes that, eventually, the Government and local farmers will shift their attention towards this marketplace.

He said: "Over the years, we've done a lot of training and seen there are charlatans and mavericks that have been critical and say it can't work and has no potential, but many people who travel abroad see supermarket shelves filled with organic products in all the developed countries.

"Going forward, we hope this will become a reality, and just as Jamaica has been known for coffee and cocoa, we'll also be known for quality organic products."

rural@gleanerjm.com